Real Estate Holdings among the Super Rich
Richard A. Benton
Lisa A. Keister
Hang Young Lee
Real estate is an important, but understudied, component of the portfolios of the super-rich. Throughout much of history, land ownership has played an important role in determining who is at the top of the wealth distribution, and contemporary patterns of wealth ownership and distribution also reflect real estate investments. In this paper, we propose that the real estate holdings of the wealthy deserve greater attention; we then explore both the distribution of real estate holdings across households and the household traits that are associated with ownership of large amounts of real estate. We concentrate our discussion on real estate holdings in the United States where wealth ownership is relatively high and wealth inequality is extreme. We use data from the Survey of Consumer Finances to explore how real estate investments are distributed across families and to model the factors that lead to membership in top positions in the ownership of real estate. Findings indicate that top real estate owning households do not uniformly overlap with other top wealth owners. Additionally, top wealth owning households are more likely to have previously inherited assets, have higher educational attainment, and be self-employed. However, among households who own large amounts of real estate, real estate investment is associated with lower educational attainment and is not significantly associated with inheritance, occupational status, or family characteristics. These findings suggest that conventional stratification theories help explain membership in positions at the top of the real estate distribution but cannot fully account for factors that predict real estate ownership among the super-rich. Our findings offer important new insights into who owns this critical asset and the implications of real estate investing for understanding inequality more generally.